What does President Trump’s view of his former property manager — a “short, fat, bald-headed guy with thick glasses and hands like Jell-O” named Irving — have to tell us about the likely outcome of the impeachment proceedings now under way in the U.S. House of Representatives?
Trump recounts in his 1987 “Art of the Deal” book that Irving successfully intimidated a much larger (“huge guy, a monster, maybe 240 pounds”) delinquent renter. How? Trump learned from Irving that “you can’t be scared. You do your thing, you hold your ground, you stand up tall and, whatever happens, happens.” In other words, if you think there is any happy — or even simply quiet — ending to the Trump presidency, you have another thing coming.
That these may be the crepuscule days of our democracy matters not to The Donald. What some view as a painfully pathetic blondish bouffant atop his head is in his own mind the splendid locks of the biblical Samson. That is, if his glory is to be snipped, he shall have no hesitation in bringing down the temple of our republic with him.
Were Trump a student of history and classic literature, he would know his story has been told a thousand times. The ancient Greeks knew of at least two such figures. Icarus, who met his demise when his hubris led him to disregard warnings that his wings of wax and feathers could not protect him if he flew too close to the sun. And Phaethon, whose eagerness to prove he was the true son of the sun god ended with his chariot being struck down by Zeus in a move necessary to protect Earth from the fire of his recklessness.
Indeed, millions of years of evolution have ingrained into our DNA that there are certain types of people we should avoid. The huckster, the liar, the betrayer, the one for whom every interaction is transactional. The person whose insecurity is matched only by his proclivity for bragging. Whose failure to observe social cues is so omnipresent that he doesn’t hesitate to joke about dating his daughter. Who bullies even his allies to get his way. Who is so corrupt he doesn’t even realize when he has admitted to his guilt.
Few of us would ever befriend such a person, hire them, willingly join them for a beer or advise a relative to enter into a long-term relationship with him. Indeed, as a fan of our columns volunteered in an encounter on a public street this week, “we are living in bizarre times.” We have elected as our leader someone only a small minority of us would ever consider a role model.
Trump’s true genius
How is it that a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey of views about our president found 69% of the American public dislike Donald Trump, even if some approve of his policies? His true genius has been in persuading those facing the greatest economic difficulties that he is their hero, all while he loots the public treasury and destroys the future of their children and grandchildren. In the words this week of a critic of our columns — no doubt his view of others who oppose Trump — we are “privileged, self-indulgent, self-righteous haters of the little guy” getting ahead.
Is it no coincidence that the major religions of the world — for all their differences — generally are in agreement that compassion for fellow humans (e.g., treating others as we ourselves would wish to be treated) is a fundamental value? That pride is bad, while the pursuit of wisdom is good? That telling the truth is to be favored over telling a lie? In professions like ours (public relations and law), there similarly are basic and overlapping values that have stood the test of time.
For example, whatever in the heat of battle may appear to be a short-term gain from misleading the public or a court, the long-term pain that can be expected to follow is far more likely to outweigh it. John Lennon’s timeline (“instant karma’s gonna get you”) may have been too quick, but the idea that “what comes around, goes around” and that you “reap what you sow” are as old as the written word, if not older.
A fool, his folly, our fate
The question is not whether a fool and his folly eventually will come to ruin, but how many of us he will take down with him. Not whether character is fate, but how many will continue to place their futures and that of the next generation in the hands of a stooge. Not whether at the end of the day pride comes before a fall, but whether he falls alone or takes this experiment in democracy down with him. We as a nation may have only ourselves to blame, having willingly embraced in our leader everything we would reject in a colleague, friend or companion.
Ironically, it appears the failure of Special Counsel Robert Mueller to strike the fatal blow could be what emboldened Trump to place the call to the Ukrainian president that now may end his tenure in office. Democrats in swing districts, who to date were fearful of angering voters by supporting impeachment, at last may realize that what those citizens want most is boldness and courage — traits that initially drew swing voters to Trump.
Congressional Republicans, having long misplaced their spines, may just grasp at last that forcing Trump out would leave Mike Pence as president. Someone with whom they agree on nearly every issue but who tweets less and who won’t force them to choose between a cult of personality and the survivability of the GOP. If pride does in fact go before a fall and (as C.S. Lewis suggested) is the sin that made the devil the Devil, then the current state of affairs will have its end. We, for two, can’t wait.